Tag Archives: tapestry design

What Four Days Away From “Work” Can do…

I just spent four glorious days away from reality, or at least away from my “real” job.  And what a wonderful time it was.  I saw Finding Dory, which if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s Ah-mazing.  Bring tissues.  I also went to the beach with my friend and we collected seashells and had a picnic under a beautiful old, twisted crab-apple tree.  We were joined by lots of bugs too, since it is summer and they like picnics as well.  But mostly I got a lot of work done on my art, including finishing the weaving for my latest tapestry!  It’s off the loom now and I’m letting it rest for a few days before I do the finishing work.  The fabric needs time to relax after being stretched tightly on the loom for several months, and this resting period makes the weaving so much easier to work with later when I clean up the back, sew up slits, hang it on a wall, etc.

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Untitled… for now….

Like most of my pieces, there are things I love about this one and things that I would love to fix.  On this piece in particular, however, I struggled more than any previous weaving, all due to not having a good solid cartoon and notes to follow.  In fact, most of my weaving frustrations are caused by a lack of a good plan, and for the most part my designs depend on careful planning. Usually I’m so excited to start weaving that I just quickly draw out the cartoon, attach it to the bottom hem and take off, sometimes even saying to myself, ‘I’ll figure it out later.’   That clearly hasn’t been working too well!  I also need to take notes on what colors I use, so that when I have to use that same color 7 inches and 2 months later, I don’t have to crawl behind the loom with a flashlight to see what colors were on the bobbin.

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Another thing is just simply practice and experience.  By making these mistakes, I’m gaining valuable insights on how to improve my technique for my next piece, and the next, and the next… I lost count of how many times I took hours of work out on this tapestry and rewove it to get the design and shapes and colors just right. Sometimes I had to rework an area several times.  And some of those areas still aren’t right, but I know I gave it my best with the skills that I have.  I can tell you that the moon and the symmetry of the background were the toughest parts.  Although these corrections added extra hours into the piece, my skills and knowledge have increased as a result, and that’s certainly worth it.  So note to self: plan a more detailed cartoon and take good notes!

I also began the finishing work I did for a tapestry from last year.  It feels good to finally get some work done on these weavings, rather than just rolling them up and stuffing them in my closet… like I normally do.

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Compass, off the loom February of 2015, but never finished due to a cross-country move.

This piece, Compass, is about trusting my intuition, my inner voice and guiding light in all that I do.  I worked on it during a difficult ending of one chapter of my life, and my hope was that it would serve as a reminder to trust in my own individual journey.  I already have my next weaving planned, a companion piece to this one, a continuation of my story and of trusting the unfolding of my life.  And I think I have the skills and experience now to really make it shine.  Now it’s back to reality.  Until next time, happy creating!

 

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Tributary

So I had been planning on starting over on this piece you might recall from a couple months ago.  I was really excited to make this weaving bigger and better than it was before.  And then, everything came to a stop.  One of my closest friends passed away.  Even though I knew she wasn’t doing well, the suddenness of her passing knocked me to my knees.

I have never experienced a loss quite like this before.  My friend was a witness to my journey as a young woman, who offered me courage and wisdom, who saw my beauty and flaws, and loved me for all of it.  She never let me settle or deny myself all of the goodness that life has to offer.  She saw my true essence, my creativity, my soul’s calling, and always supported me in pursuing my dreams.  She was also hilarious and witty and we shared a similar sense of humor that would put us both into fits of laughter that would make my stomach hurt.  She was my rock.  And I miss her.  I miss her every single day.

When she died, a part of me died, too.  I stopped playing piano.  I had no desire to create ANYTHING.  I didn’t want to pick up a pencil or open a sketchbook.  I didn’t want to sit at my loom.  I was lucky if I even thought about coloring in my coloring book.  I wondered when and how I’d ever want to create again, and what would that look like.  The odd thing is that my beloved friend was an incredibly creative person.  A huge admirer of Van Gogh’s work, she was a self-taught painter who had an amazing ability to capture light and shadows, and her colors radiated off the canvas.  During a time when it felt like I should be creating something as a tribute to her, I found that I was just completely empty.

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

And life kept moving forward.  I had to continue to go to work and keep myself together.  I still had bills to pay, I had to feed myself, get enough sleep, and most importantly I had to make time to be with the uncomfortable and, for me, unfamiliar feelings of grief.  We don’t really get enough time to mourn and process our grief these days.  There’s this expectation from society that we get about three days to mourn and then we have to be back on our game.  But from my experiences with grief, both mine and that of friends, is that it’s always cyclical and it has its own timeline.  It comes and goes like the tide and the seasons.  Sometimes it just sits there quietly like a dull ache and other times it feels like a vast and painful emptiness.  But I turn towards the grief and honor it, and in that same way I’m honoring the love I have for my friend.

I’ve been listening to a talk by Martin Prechtel, a Mayan shaman, on grief and praise and how both come from the same place.  To paraphrase a line from his inspiring talk: “You gotta love the thing you lost just like you gotta love the thing you’ve got.”   I grieve for my beloved friend, and I praise the beautiful gift that was her coming into my life and sharing in my journey. I’ve used this time as an incredibly humbling and deepening experience.  I’ve never felt so raw or so totally human before.  It’s given me fresh eyes to look at how I’m living my life, how much love I’m giving to myself, how much praise I have for life and all of the beauty that it offers.  And loss, even profound loss, is part of that beauty.

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

So here is my tribute to my friend, one of the many I will create as a way of celebrating her life and her love.  One of her favorite places to be was at the river, soaking in the sun and swimming in the cool clear water.  Like a tributary, her life and her beauty flows into the hearts of her loved ones who carry her spirit onward.  I’ve been spending lots of time outdoors lately, being in the woods and recently hiking to some frozen waterfalls.  Spring has arrived and these once giant frozen icicles are flowing again, and I feel the same sensation of thawing out, melting into water, the soft flow of a river in my soul.   Nature has always been my creative inspiration, so I’m going back to what I know.  I also have plans to create a piece honoring my friend and the beauty she brought to my life.  I’ll let you know how my new journey goes!

Can you find me?

Can you find me?

I Love a Good Beginning

It’s true, I love a good beginning.  That feeling when you sit down with a book and after a few pages you think, “Oh, this is gonna be good.”  Or when you hear a new song and the rhythm or the harmony or the vocals hit you right in the feels.  A newly discovered walking route, adorable neighborhood, or path in the woods. When you meet the person who becomes your best friend.  A fresh start, a clean slate, when all things seem possible.

I also love the beginnings that slowly unfold.  When your not so sure about that crazy leap of faith you just took, but then you start noticing the tiny miracles that occur as the result.  The person who you never imagined would be a friend, and what a wonderful friend they turned out to be. The quickening plot, the road that delivers surprisingly stunning views, the blossoming romance, springtime.

beloved1But while these good beginnings are nice and certainly welcome, I also appreciate a difficult beginning and everything it teaches me about patience, courage, and self-compassion. Rough starts come in many forms, and currently mine is with my latest weaving.  I’m really jazzed about it and really frustrated all at the same time.  I planned the whole thing out to be a certain size and only now do I realize I easily could have made it bigger.  Why do I automatically tend to work so small with such tiny detail?  Sometimes I feel like weaving so small makes me want to rip my hair out.  Maybe I could weave with that….

Well, I decided to take the whole thing apart, right back to when I tied on the warps.  It’s amazing how three to four hours worth of work can be taken out in less than half the time.  The process of tapestry weaving is so much more than just following the cartoon.  The techniques and experimenting along the way can add some time onto the piece.  However I tend think of it as time well spent because I always learn something new through trial and error.  I’m sure the more experienced weavers out there have a better understanding of how to get the effects they want, but I’ve also seen evidence of these weavers ripping hours worth of work out, too.  It may be that we are our own worst critics, but I also think it’s something else…design1

In the past, may well-meaning friends have lunged towards me shouting a slow motion “Noooooooo…” as I took an eraser to the drawing I spent countless hours on, or covered up the painting that just wasn’t working, or ripped out seams and rows of weaving.  Sure the work is beautiful to them, but I’m also doing this work for myself.  It’s my dedication to my ideas and creativity that makes me courageous enough to know when to start over, even if I feel a huge sense of guilt.  Even if I fear I may not ever get it right.  Even if I feel I’ve already spent enough time on it.  I think many other artists feel this same way.  We know we wont be able to live with the finished results if we had pushed through and tried to make it work.  Sometimes the solution to a rough beginning is to take what we’ve learned and start over.  Sometimes the solution is to scratch the whole idea all together.  I’ve done that too. Of course, this always has to be kept in check when it’s the drive for perfection that is causing us to continually start over.  Perfection can do the opposite of what we want it to do.  Perfection can be a real creativity killer…

 

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Discovering what didn’t work before has helped me to change a few things about the design, a big one being the overall size.  I haven’t even started weaving this improved piece and I’m already glad I decided to start over.  I’m also glad I don’t have a deadline!  Whether the beginning is slow and meandering, or fast and thrilling, sometimes the most important thing is just to start, and to not be afraid to start over.

 

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A Looming Deadline

compass_wip1Almost done!  I’ve set my own deadline to finish this tapestry by January 30th, because sometimes all it takes is a looming deadline (ha, get it?) to get me to sit on the weaving bench.  I think I’ve got about an inch left, then I’ll weave the hem, and then it’s off the loom!   I’ve been breezing through this weaving with a renewed feeling of passion and enthusiasm, and I know the boxing classes have a big part to play in this.  I’m building new muscle skills, not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and creatively as well.  I go to class feeling terrified of what insane workout I’ll push my way through today, and leave feeling so much appreciation for my coaches, my courage, and my strength.  I carry this feeling of resilience, this deep appreciation for how strong I am, courageous I am, for everything I know I can do, to my art practice and the rest of my life.  Boxing is teaching me to go deeper, to push harder, to love myself, my creativity, and my life more than I ever have before.

I’m also currently building the next online tapestry exhibit for the American Tapestry Alliance.  The curator picked some magnificent pieces and it’s been so fun to see so many incredible artworks.  I’m sorry I can’t give you any details, but I’ll post a link on here when the show goes live for those who are interested!

A Few Steps Back…

Time really flies, especially when I get into the rhythm of weaving.  I fall into just the right state of calm focus and inspiration, and the colors and shapes flow from my fingers.  It can be hard to stop and take a step back, view the work, and take note of the progress, but this is one of the most important aspects of art making.  I first learned this from my painting instructor in college.  He would always remind us during class, while we were deep in the process of painting still lifes, to step back from the easel and view our work.  Up close, you could only see the tiny details, but from ten feet back, you could see the whole picture.  The sculptor, the painter, and yes, the tapestry weaver, need to get some distance between themselves and their work to see how it’s coming along.  How do the shadows, light, contrast, and colors look?  Is the composition still working?  Are any shapes or forms slightly off?  When your face is a mere 14 inches away from the canvas, it can be hard to take in the bigger picture.  Viewing our work from a distance is also how our audience will see it, and it gives us a chance to admire our hard work.

This design is an element from a larger tapestry that I will eventually make…  when I have a bigger loom.

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The cartoon and a colored pencil sketch of the design

The main design it’s taken from was partly inspired by my summer hike up to the alpine meadows of Mt. Jefferson near Bend, Oregon, and partly inspired by many late night moon viewings from my fifth floor apartment.  The moon/star symbol makes an interesting composition without the mountain and trees in the original design.

CompassWIP1So far, I’ve had to take two sections out, about four hours of work, because the areas weren’t following the cartoon (the white paper behind the weaving).  Eventually this “small” error would have thrown off most of the overall effect of the design.   Sometimes I don’t have to follow the cartoon exactly, and I enjoy the spontaneity that comes with improving, but I don’t have that freedom with this design.  Again, another great example of the importance of taking a few steps back to get some perspective!  I can’t emphasize it enough.  *If you’re an artist, take a break every now and then while you are making (not just at the beginning or end of your studio time) and get some distance between you and your art.  Soak in your progress and what you have learned, take note of what looks great and what might need to be improved.  Then pick up the paintbrush, or bobbin, or carving tool, and keep making.

*Even if you’re not an artist, this technique still applies to you; the artwork that you are looking at is your life!

A New Work in Progress and a Cheapo Weaving Bench Solution

It’s been months since I’ve had a tapestry going on my loom.  I cut the last piece off at the end of April, and spent May preparing it to enter into Oregon College of Art and Craft’s alumni show.  During June I spent all but four days house-sitting for the cutest dog and kitty in the world, which was fun but also really exhausting.  I figured all of this time away from my studio would mean I would be eager to return to my loom with a head full of genius ideas.  Instead I’ve been feeling undecided, uncommitted, and very unsure about the designs I’ve drawn out.  It almost seems like the more time I spend away from weaving, the less likely I am to pick up the bobbins and just do what I love.  I could wait for a better idea to come to me, but honestly I just want to be weaving.

In the past I’ve imagined my designs in their completed form, and I would only edit certain elements to accommodate the size of my loom.  Over the past couple of weeks I’ve done a half dozen watercolours to try to figure out just what the heck I’m doing.  They’re now scattered across the floor along with several cartoon renditions that I’ve had a hard time committing to as well.  It also doesn’t help that I’m outgrowing my loom.

Watercolours are my favorite medium to sketch out an idea

Watercolours are my favorite medium to sketch out an idea.

I’ve loved this simple image of a forest reflected in still water, with a bright light rising above the treetops.  I’ve painted this image for years, and always in blue, and now I want to try “painting” it with yarn.

The hem is woven… almost ready!

So I’m committing to this design.  If I hate how it’s coming out or think of something better I can always cut it off the loom…

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…but I don’t think I’m going to hate it, I actually think it’s going to come out better than I expected.  It usually happens that way.  Tapestry weaving has a way of developing into it’s own thing, despite all of the planning in the world.  It takes on a life of it’s own, with an energy that is alive and also sacred and ancient, an art form that has been practiced for centuries.  There’s an element of surprise in how the finished piece turns out, something I could never imagine while I was developing the design.  I don’t think I would enjoy this medium as much if results were predictable and controllable.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to create exactly what I see in my head, but I also maintain a sense of humility and acceptance for how the finished piece will look.  Hey, isn’t this, like, a metaphor for life?  I hope that even once I’m an old weaver woman I’ll still be surprised by how my tapestries turn out.

And on a side note, I found this little wooden “bench” at work that they use for merchandising.  I sat on it and realized it would make the most perfect little weaving bench for my loom!  Weaving benches usually cost around $200, give or take depending on style and the wood used.  I don’t have that kind of money for something I’m going to put my butt on, and especially to go along with a student loom that I will have to retire soon for a larger model.  So this little bench is actually a night stand from Ikea, and it cost only $17!  It also makes a great side storage table for yarns and such if you work on the floor a lot like I do.

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Stay tuned for more updates on this newest weaving.  I’m going to try to post more work in progress photos.  Promise!